Open Access and Publishing in History and the Social Sciences: Opportunities and Challenges

AHA Session 104
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Washington Room 5 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Randall M. Packard, Johns Hopkins University
Harold J. Cook, Brown University
Mary Ellen Davis, Association of College and Research Libraries
Robert A. Schneider, American Historical Review
Steven C. Wheatley, American Council of Learned Societies

Session Abstract

The movement to make academic research findings more accessible to the public has been gaining steam for the last five years. The movement has been driven by several concerns. Many argue that government funded research should be freely available to the public which, in effect, pays for it. Another driver is the rapidly increasing costs of journal publishing, particularly in the sciences, where a few major publishing companies control access to a large number of journals and charge increasingly higher fees for subscriptions. This limits public access to research findings.

In response to these concerns several solutions have been proposed both in the U.S. and U.K. that require government sponsored research as well as research funded by private foundations, like the Wellcome Trust, to be made available to the public free of charge through one of several mechanisms. Several universities in the U.S. have also developed plans to insure open access of their faculty’s research. One model (the gold route), proposed in Britain, requires that an article be published on a website, free for all to read at the point at which it is published in print; the author pays an article access fee. Another model (the green route) involves depositing a near-final copy of the article on a website, often an institutional repository, rather than the fully edited and formatted PDF of the article as it appears in the print and on-line journal. This online depositing of a near-final copy article need not be simultaneous with the publication of the final print or on-line version. But there is debate about the timing of such pre-print publications. Many journals are calling for the creation of an embargo period in which the open access versions of journal articles appears several months or even years after the final print version is published in order to protect the value of the final print versions.

While there is growing support for such plans, they have potential costs. The simultaneous publishing open access versions of article may ultimately threaten the ability of some journals to continue publishing. Open access models may also disrupt the current system of peer review. The fees proposed for open access may create inequalities among scholars depending on their ability to pay open access fees. While these costs may affect all publishing, they may be particularly challenging for humanities and social sciences journals, which have smaller print runs and profitability margins, and where articles have a longer shelf life than in science and technology journals.

The proposed panel brings together a group of scholars who have diverse interests and experience related to the development of open access policies in publishing in the U.S. and Britain. We will employ a roundtable format, with each speaker having roughly 10 minutes to present their thoughts regarding the opportunities and challenges of open access publishing. We will then open the session up for discussion.

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